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Daffodils box container bulbs pexels
Gardeners love to anticipate what will grow and change. When you plant bulbs in autumn, you can then wait for the excitement of the first shoots in spring.

Helpful Information

Timing: Autumn

Garden space: Large garden, small garden, balcony

  • Planting bulbs can be satisfying and is relatively low cost. It is a good activity for gardeners of every level of experience
  • When you plant bulbs in autumn, you can then rest through winter and let nature do the work. In spring, enjoy watching as green shoots burst through the soil
  • Lots of bulbs can be planted in autumn, allowing you to fill your garden with colour from a wide range of flowers
Orange and purple tulips in a raised bed at Thrive Reading
Orange and purple tulips in a raised bed at Thrive Reading

One of the great things about planting bulbs is how many options you have.

There are different places you could plant them.

In the ground in beds and borders

Plant bulbs directly into beds and borders.

In containers, raised beds or elevated planters.

Bulbs are great to plant in any sort of container, from a small pot to a large planter.

Planting a small number of bulbs in a lightweight container can be a good strength-building activity. This may be particularly useful if you are recovering from an illness, or coping with the effects of a stroke or heart disease.

Top tip

At Thrive we sometimes place pots of bulbs in beds or raised planters with the edge of the pot still visible. This means they can be easily removed and changed the following autumn or spring once they have finished flowering. This can also be useful to help find where you've planted if you have any sight loss.

In the lawn

This will give your grass more of a wild look come spring. Wilder lawns can be attractive and good for insects, though may need a little more effort when you come to mow them.

A bag full of bulbs ready to plant
A bag full of bulbs ready to plant

A number of bulbs become available to buy and are best sown in autumn.

Daffodils

A bright yellow daffodil in bloom
A bright yellow daffodil in bloom

Daffodils are the symbol of spring. Depending on which variety you choose, they will flower at different times. Narcissus ‘February Gold’ will give colour in late winter. Narcissus ‘Dutch Master’ will put on a show in mid-spring.

Check the bulb packets or information online to see when each variety flowers.

Alliums

The purple globe-shaped head of an allium
The purple globe-shaped head of an allium

Alliums bring gorgeous colour and elegant shape to any garden. They give you wonderful early summer displays year after year. Allium ‘Globemaster’ and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ are two varieties that look particularly good.

Some varieties of allium can get very tall, more than a metre high. You might prefer to grow these in the ground, or in a low raised bed!

Tulips

Tulips growing in a long container
Tulips growing in a long container

In the Netherlands, tulips were once so desirable that huge sums of money were traded to buy them! Luckily, today there are many different beautiful varieties available for much less.

It is usually recommended to wait until late autumn to plant tulip bulbs. They can get a disease called ‘tulip fire'. Planting bulbs in colder soil makes them less likely to get it.

Snake’s-head fritillary

Snake’s-head frittilary growing in a lawn
Snake’s-head fritillary growing in a lawn

If you want a flower to admire, snake’s head fritillary is a great choice. The pretty little flowers are like swaying bells and the petals look exactly as if they are made of snakeskin.

This is a really lovely native wildflower. It looks brilliant growing in a lawn – or anywhere you fancy growing it.

Crocus

A field of white and purple crocuses
A field of white and purple crocuses

Crocuses are brilliant to bring colour to your garden as early as February. Seeing masses of them flower is a real delight and a sign that lighter days are on the way.

Snowdrop

Pure white snowdrops growing in a flower border
Pure white snowdrops growing in a flower border

Many people are familiar with the sight of these small white flowers, which can bloom from January onwards (and sometimes earlier!). Plant them in borders, containers, raised beds – anywhere really.

Or, in late winter, search for your nearest snowdrop garden and make a trip to admire their display.

Top tip

If you are buying from a garden centre / shop, you may be able to choose individual bulbs. Pick good size bulbs that are firm, with unbroken covering membranes.

Red tulips around the base of a tree
Red tulips around the base of a tree

Bulbs are beautifully versatile. There are lots of ways you could choose to arrange them. Here are some ideas:

1. Scatter across a lawn

Create a natural look by throwing a handful of bulbs across your lawn. Plant the bulbs wherever they land.

2. Colourful spring bed

Find a circle area within a bed or border. Fill with a mixture of bulbs of whatever variety and colour you find most appealing. You could always add other plants on top of this, like wallflowers.

3. Fill gaps in large planted containers

Place your bulbs in large planted containers so the flowers will pop up and fill any gaps. A bulb planter is ideal for doing this.

4. Plant a pot

Fill a pot of any size with a mixture of bulbs. Or, you could stick to a single variety if you prefer. You could decorate it by adding small shingle stones or dry moss on top of the soil.

Top tip

Bulbs should be planted in a hole two to three times as deep as the bulb is long. If you have a two inch tulip bulb, for example, you need to plant it in a four to six inch deep hole. This is especially important to think about when planting in pots. You want your pot to be big enough for your bulb.

Once you have planted your bulbs, the great thing is you can pretty much leave them to it!

Come spring, you can enjoy keeping watch for emerging shoots and colour.

If you planted bulbs in a container, you may need to give the soil an occasional water if it is looking dry.

Top tip

If you don’t get round to planting bulbs in autumn, don’t worry, there are other options. Some shops and garden centres sell potted bulbs in mid to late winter. This is basically just a bulb where someone else has done the first bit of growing for you!

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